“Oh great, another Batman thing,” I thought when Telltale first announced that it was making a Caped Crusader game. That thought persisted throughout the roughly nine months that followed. Oh sure, I knew I’d play the game. But it felt like Batman had squeezed the last drops out of his Shark Repellent Bat Spray, leaving him no choice but to make the proverbial jump over the carnivorous fish. Think about it, old chums: over 11 years we’ve gotten four Arkham games with a fifth on the way, three Dark Knight movies, Batman vs. Superman and Suicide Squad. And oh, by the way, Justice League will be here before we know it.
So how do you keep people interested when the hero they really need is one who’ll just take a little vacation? You take Alfred’s in-game advice and leave the gloomy confines of the Batcave for some quality time in Wayne Manor. Telltale made it a point to advertise that Bruce Wayne would feature prominently in Batman: Realm of Shadows, but what wasn’t clear prior to release was how far the studio would go to subvert established characterizations of Bruce Wayne and his parents.
Don’t mistake my meaning: Realm of Shadows opens with Batman whipping out the tried-and-true tools in his utility belt and bashing in the skulls of some nameless thugs from the shadows (pun presumably intended by Telltale), and it’s hardly the last time you’ll put on the cape and cowl in Episode 1. These action sequences require more active playing than we’ve seen in perhaps any other Telltale game, too. Batman might make the job look easy, but you’re not Batman; you only play as him, and doing so requires your full attention and lightning fast reflexes.
Fun as the bad guy beatdowns are, though, it’s the extended time you spend as Bruce Wayne that will leave the strongest impression. Here Telltale paints a Bruce Wayne who is in great peril and feels great conflict about how to dig out of it. Wayne’s making maneuvers to get Harvey Dent elected mayor, which puts him on a collision course with Gotham’s criminal underworld and a shocking Wayne family revelation leading to public opprobrium. Telltale has stripped away the confidence and smugness of the playboy billionaire we’ve all come to know through various Bruce Wayne incarnations over the years. Realm of Shadows instead presents a Bruce Wayne who is perhaps more vulnerable than we’ve ever seen him be on screen.
Telltale’s Wayne is still a righteous man on a crusade to rid Gotham of its always disturbingly high criminal population. With the mask on, he’s the same capable brute and detective he’s always been. When he takes off the mask, however, even Bruce’s substantial wealth and social status can’t help him to find easy answers. His choices are hard, making you labor over which ones to select for him — but that’s why you’ll return for the next episode at the same bat-time, same bat-channel.
Batman Episode 1: Realm of Shadows was developed and published on Xbox 360 and Xbox One by Telltale Games. It was released August 2, 2016 for $4.99. A copy was provided by Telltale Games for review purposes.
To find reviews for the other episodes (as they become available), check out the Batman review hub.